Verse 4: Montage


Samael's eyes were slow to open as his body started to awaken. He grimaced at the dull pain criss-crossing his back, forgetting for a moment what he'd done the previous day. He reached back to run a hand down his spine, shifting his weight and immediately causing his suspended body to lurch to one side.

His eyes flew wide with a squeal of terror, suddenly recalling where he'd gone to sleep as he clutched into the sides of the hammock and wheezed, doing his best not to stare over and down at the tens of feet between himself and the cave floor below. "Oh goddammit, goddammit, these fuckers 'n their fuckin' hammocks," he mumbled, nervously releasing one of his hands from the ropes to slowly rub at his eyes. "Guess you're just fucked if yer a sleep-walker..."

He started to steady his breath as the gentle swaying of the suspended furniture became a part of his rhythm, finally opening his eyes again with a quiet sigh. He could hear activity below him -- whatever schedule most of the bats kept, clearly most of them had long since woken up. He glanced around, his assumptions confirmed by empty hammocks surrounding him.

He couldn't help feeling just a little bit lonely. Even back at Sidewinder, when he woke up by himself, he never really felt alone. Yes, that was due in part to the fact they hadn't expanded the caves much, and everyone lived in fairly close quarters...but he could admit honestly it reminded him of the environment in which he grew up, and there was something innately comfortable about it.

He grumbled and was almost resigned to trying to find his way out of the stringed furnishing before an amused snort made him jerk his head back to where his hammock was attached. A smile swiftly lit up his features at the sight of Andee perched on a rafter. The bat looked down at him mildly while holding what looked like two tall containers of hot liquid. "Good mornin', Andee!"

"Whassup, dumbass? Ya still look like shit, y'know," Andee replied with a smirk before he jerked his head to the side. "C'mon, get ya beat-up hide outta the sack. Brought you a coffee." Samael struggled to sit up in the hammock, his eyes bulging again when the thing started to swing from side to side as he reached out and grabbed one of Andee's legs for support. "Ay, the fuck, I ain't your damn crutch!" the bat protested while shaking his leg wildly.

"Yeah well, you made me sleep in this thing," Samael huffed as he carefully turned around in the hammock and then made an incredibly ugly show of crawling warily out and onto the nearby wooden platform with a groan of effort. "Goddamn, I feel like I don't even need the damn coffee after my fuckin' third heart attack of the mornin'..."

"I'm not gonna complain, more for me," Andee retorted as he sauntered across the rafter with ease to join the chupa on the platform.

"Heeell no, gimme, gimme," Samael uttered, sitting cross-legged and holding out both hands childishly. "Where the hell did y'all get coffee from? Another super-secret-Andee-special connection?"

Andee arched an eyebrow as he shoved one of the sealed mugs into Samael's grip. "Bitch, we invented coffee! I am the connection for this shit, I got the preemo stuff in my pantry!"

Samael blinked before grinning as he inhaled deeply. The aroma of the coffee was unexpectedly rich and his expression was filled with delight as he wiggled his shoulders. "Ooh hooo, shit, son, you ain't lyin', this smells like fuckin' heaven already..." He paused long enough to take a slow, careful sip.

Andee tried not to make it obvious as he peered at the chupa for his reaction, holding up his own travel mug to cover his features. But it was hard to avoid his smug grin as Samael groaned in delight and gave a happy twitch of his tail. "What'd I tell ya, puppy? Shit's good, right?"

"Mmmmmm fuck, shut yer cute face for a minute, lemme enjoy this shit," Samael mumbled with a playful smile, reaching out to poke Andee's thigh. "So the fuck you mean y'all invented coffee?"

"Where ya think coffee beans first grew, asshole?" Andee sniffed disdainfully as he slurped from his mug, then booted Samael's leg in return. "We were roastin' 'em out here in the jungle long before you fuckos even learned not to piss upstream. Got passed around, eventually some of my generous-ass ancestors shared it with some'a your knuckle-draggin'-ass ancestors and then, as ya do, you assholes took credit."

"Shit, I got no shame, yer shit's the best I ever had," Samael replied before taking another deep guzzle. His eyes closed for a moment as he swallowed and then sighed contentedly. "You take the fuckin' gold star for this one, let the history books get rewrote."

Andee grinned again, then grunted his approval and lightly slapped his wing against Samael's still-tender back. "Good. Now get ya lazy ass up -- I didn't bring ya the good stuff so we could sit around and contemplate life or some shit. We got shit to do!"

Samael winced and pouted up at the bat even as he grumbled and crawled to a standing position while cradling his mug to his chest. "Yeah, yeah, a'right." He whimpered a bit when he reached back to poke the still-raw tattoo. "Fuckin' hell, what was I thinkin'?" He gave Andee his best puppy-dog look over one shoulder as he turned to show his back to the bat. "How does it look??"

Andee rolled his eyes but kept quiet for a moment, sipping his coffee again while letting his gaze rove along the rebel's tattoo. Now that soberness had finally settled in, he could honestly appreciate Mutt's work...and Samael's stupidity for just how damn large it actually ended up being. The pistol and sword took up almost half of the chupa's back, carving through his rippling muscles in multiple places and dipping down to end just above his toned buttocks. It was massive...and it admittedly looked pretty damn good on him. The bat smirked to himself, then offered a casual shrug to Samael's worried expression. "Ehhh, I guess it looks okay." He then grinned as he grabbed the oversized t-shirt crumpled nearby, flinging it at his companion. "But ya still better put this shit back on so no one thinks ya got into a losin' fight with a weedwhacker!"

"Awww, is it really that bad?!" Samael whined, trying to stare at himself over a shoulder before peering under one muscular arm and then scowling as he tried to crane his neck around to the other side. "How drunk were we??"

"Pretty fuckin' sloshed," Andee admitted before he grinned again. "Jus' think how bad it woulda been if we'd gone after the snatch, too."

Samael huffed, blindly holding out his coffee for Andee to take so he could put the shirt on. The bat found himself automatically grabbing it despite himself, watching with amusement as the stocky rebel fought briefly with the too-large garment. "Not funny. But. That was some good shit, too." They both fell silent for a few seconds as he struggled to get his head and arms through the right holes, and when they gazed at each other afterward, the tension quietly started to bubble.

But eventually Andee grunted and held Samael's coffee out again. "Then next time let's make sure we enjoy that shit without anyone bein' a stupid dick-face, eh?"

Samael smiled slightly, taking the mug back with a nod. "A'right. Deal."

"Deal, my ass -- we're miles from even ground, puppy, I still got a fuckin' three-foot stack of IOUs from you," Andee retorted, lifting his chin haughtily before jerking his head to the rickety stairwell. "Let's go, ya wingless fuck. We gotta take the loser's way down to find us some grub."

"Aww, c'mon, I bet you could at least glide a li'l bit if I was holdin' onto you," Samael teased as he followed Andee toward the wooden staircase. "We should try it! Think what a badass combo that'd be! I'd be yer personal goddamn air-drop!"

"You'd be my personal goddamn red-'n-grey stain is what you'd be, like I could even wish to fly with yer big ass attached!" Andee snorted, waving a wing dismissively. "You just keep on dreamin', shortstack."

"Maybe I will," Samael replied, smiling around his mug as they made their way back to the ground level.


They made a brief detour to a stall that had various jars of creams and salves on display so Andee could keep his promise and get the 'juice' for Samael's back. Samael sniffed suspiciously at the off-white cream as they wandered into the culinary district. "'Kay, it's not that I don't trust this stuff is gonna help...but how the fuck you expect me to get it on?"

"I dunno, that's your problem," Andee responded. "Get ya a big stick or somethin'! You'll be fine."

Samael huffed as they stopped in front of a stand sporting a mix of fruits and grains. "Oooor, you could help me out," he suggested in a sing-song voice, giving his most winning smile as Andee tried to ignore it and shared a quick discussion with the merchant. "I mean, yer practically co-parent'a this tattoo, we're totally both to blame."

"It ain't a fuckin' baby," Andee grumbled as the bat behind the stall started to put together two bowls of fruit and what looked like a kind of yogurt. "You are, though," he added, tapping his now-empty mug against Samael's chest. "But alright, how 'bout this -- you help me with clearing up a cave-in that blocked up one of my routes last week, and I'll help ya with your baby-bitch tattoo."

Samael perked up as the merchant passed the two bowls across the counter, once more using his shaky grasp of 'thank you' in the bats' native tongue. The seller gave him an encouraging smile, replying with a warm yei'ho nocsemo." Samael beamed as he grabbed them both, then handed one down to Andee. "That sounds good!"

"What don't sound good is your pronunciation," Andee muttered while motioning for the chupa to follow him to a small cluster of public tables. "Ugh, guess I better start on your language lessons, too. You know, Nelson's gonna owe me big for all this!" He dropped into a wooden chair and started to dig into the yogurt and fruit as Samael set down the small tub of salve and plopped into the chair across from him.

"Or I can make it worth yer while," Samael cooed, leaning across the table with a wink as he tapped his spoon against Andee's.

The bat snickered and promptly smacked Samael's muzzle with his own utensil. "Uh huh. So far the only while you been worth has been gettin' shot at by a buncha hoopsters and gettin' my schedule all kindsa fucked up." He eyed Samael while they both took a few bites. "Let's start with some food words, since that's all I been doin' since bringing you down here, feeding your useless ass..."


"I'm tellin' ya, bigfoot -- you bring me one, fuckin' even one flank steak that's better than even the shittiest rib-eye and I'll fuckin' clear your debt!" Andee argued from atop the table, jabbing a claw into Samael's muzzle as the rebel grinned and leaned toward the bat.

"You fancy-ass bat-bitches just ain't learned the art of a good marinade, 'sall that tells me!" he crowed in return while poking into Andee's chest several times. "Fuck it -- we gonna have a cook-off tonight, I'll show ya who's gonna be bowin' in front'a who!"

Andee started to remove his cap to beat Samael with when a loud cough from the side caught their attention. They peered over in one movement, their muzzles wrinkled in matching looks of indignation. "Who the fuck's interruptin' my vocabulary lesson with this dumba--oh, ey, Paneko! What's good?"

A bat stood next to their table, his face painted with an exasperated expression. He wore a poncho that hung down considerably longer on his slender frame than most of the other bats, as well as sporting a large sack that was strapped over one shoulder and along the inside of a wing to loop under his thigh. His sleek body was covered in light-colored fur, nearly white -- it set him apart from most of the other bats Samael had met so far. Between the satchel and his pale hide, he was pretty damn cute. Samael tilted his head curiously before grinning amusedly. "You some kinda mail...bat? 'Cause that is fuckin' adorable!"

The bat glowered at him. Yei zohbj xulo de atou xen misx advehmukaed no khudjfehk veh yei, te yei?"

Dux kxoy ted'k xulo u visbad' scio. Ted'k madt kxaj edo, xo'j wekku jevk rhuad," Andee replied while slapping the side of Samael's head. "Yeah, he's a mail-bat! And Paneko here is one'a my good friends, so don't talk shit about him or I'll have him drop a note to Nelson that you're tryin' to sell that radio off for dick-pills!"

Samael blinked stupidly. "W-wait, Nelson uses you guys fer that, too? The fuck, man, she ain't told me shit!"

"Clearly for good reason, you're about as sharp as cream cheese," Andee retorted before he gestured to Paneko. "What's up, though? You bring me some good news??"

Paneko smiled coyly. Yof. Kxuk ujjxeco ad Episemon aj tovadakocy hosoaladw udekxoh jxafmodk ad u noob." He dug around in the satchel for a few seconds, producing a neatly-folded letter that he handed to Andee.

Samael gazed between them inquisitively, noting the way Andee's eyes lit up. "Oh, fuck yeah!! Ha! This is gonna be the big one..." He reached out with his free hand, his claws balled into a fist, and Paneko met it with his own. "I owe ya, Pan! Be sure to let me know if ya hear anything 'til then!"

Yei wek ak, Andee." He paused to peer at Samael. Udt ix. Weet cisb nakx...nxukoloh kxaj aj."

Andee snorted and glanced at Samael as well before smirking as he reached out to flick the chupa's muzzle. "Yeah, I'll need it." He nodded to Paneko and the mail-bat returned the gesture, then hopped up to quickly flit into the air and off to his next destination.

Samael rubbed at the end of his maw while studying Andee's excited features. "A'right, c'mon -- don't keep me in suspense, what're ya all excited about??"

Andee grinned broadly. "The job of the fuckin' year, that's what! And lucky me...I need a useful schmuck to help on this one." He tucked the letter into his half-poncho while winking. "Guess where you come in, twinkle-tail."

"I s'pose 'useful schmuck' is an upgrade from 'meat-shield'," Samael teased while leaning forward against the table with his arms crossed. "But shit, y'know I'm down! Let's raise some hell, what're we doin'??"

"'We' are gonna spend the next two weeks working on your fuckin' shitty bat-speak while you heal up that gross body of yours so you can be ready to do what you dumbasses do best and get the shit kicked outta you!" Andee replied cheerfully as he turned around to hop down from the table.

But Samael reached out to nudge his arm lightly before he could, a smile lighting up his features. "Okay, but before you get to be all mysterious with yer secret future mission..." He held up the healing cream and pouted. "Fair's fair!"

"Aw, c'mon, we ain't even started cleaning up the cave-in, you ain't done shit yet!" Andee protested.

"Pleeeeease?" Samael sang out, his eyes big as he turned around to straddle the back of his chair while peering over a shoulder. "I'll work better if I ain't as sore!

"My gawd, you are a whiny ass-tart," Andee grumbled as he finally sighed in resignation and snatched up the salve. "Go on, then, take your shirt off so you can get every asshole within a square fuckin' mile to stare at you the way you like..."

Samael didn't exactly protest as he grinned and quickly shed the t-shirt before leaning forward over the back of the chair so his tattoo was more accessible to the bat. "Ain't gotta tell me twice."

"Mhmm, except when someone says 'stop, it's getting sore'," Andee deadpanned as he scooped up a handful of the thick cream and slapped it unceremoniously on the middle of Samael's tattoo.

The chupa winced and immediately stiffened up, which in turn made him whimper as his muscles contracted against every sensitive line of the burned-in marking. "Ah-haa, shiiit," he hissed as his claws dug into the chair.

Andee rolled his eyes. "Ya giant baby." But he shifted slightly, looking the tiniest bit guilty before dropping onto his knees at the edge of the table so he could lean down and start to rub the ointment in. "C'mon, tough guy -- you keep tensing up like this and you're gonna make the shit start bleeding again, then you're gonna be a real ugly mess." He was careful not to scrape his claws against the tender cuts, massaging the salve in using a slow, outward spiral. "You act fuckin' cool as a cucumber, but you're like a baby moa hiding from a crawbear."

"Yeah, well, half my back got chopped up with hot knives, so...give a guy a break," Samael mumbled sullenly, even as his back muscles began to relax under Andee's ministrations. He closed his eyes and bowed his head forward, wincing only occasionally when Andee's movements pushed against a particularly sore area.

"Uh huh. Ya know, both me and Mutt tried to warn ya," Andee replied as he collected a bit more of the cream and stretched his arms down to work it gently into the small of Samael's back. He massaged slowly around the chupa's tail while adding: "Ya realize almost no one's gonna see this unless you turn into York Jr. and start doin' all your shit without a damn shirt."

"Eh, that don't sound like the worst thing," Samael teased as he opened one eye to glance back at Andee. "Or maybe it's jus' fer certain folks to enjoy durin' certain times."

The bat met his look mildly before snorting quietly as he rubbed the last of the excess salve into the bottom of the tattoo. "Like I said. Shoulda gone with 'Town Bicycle'." He pulled his arms back and idly rubbed his claws against his thighs. "Alright, jackass. All done."

Samael sighed softly when the contact ended, but continued to smile as he carefully stood up and kept his shirt folded over one arm. "Thanks, Andee. Y'know, even if it do look like a weedwhacker attack, I'm still gonna imagine it's the most badass tattoo this side of Sirca. You helped me draw it, after all."

Andee snickered and slapped the lid onto the cream before tossing it to Samael, who caught it easily. "Yeah, while we were both plastered at the bar -- that's some classy art, alright." He then shrugged with a half-smile while gathering their bowls to return them to the food stand. "But of course it looks good. My man does good work! You think I'd take you to a half-rate tattoo place?" He shared a quick exchange with the attendant before turning back to Samael with a grin. "Maybe all the other schmucks that I babysit, but not you, you're too much of a whiny bitch, I'd never hear the end of it if ya giant compensation symbol had a fucked up line!"

"Ya ain't wrong there!" Samael replied cheerfully as they strolled away from the food district. "Now where the fuck didja say we were goin'?"

"To do some good, old-fashioned manual labor," Andee announced, smirking up at him. "Or at least you're gonna do the manual labor while I do what I do best and tell you dumb bastards how to do your jobs right! Also, your 'tattoo-juice' better dry fast 'cause no one wants to keep lookin' at your shirtless ass."


Any gripes about Samael not wearing his shirt soon became pointless, however. It wasn't long before Andee had grumbled and joined Samael in digging out the cave that had partially collapsed, leaving them both dirty and drenched in sweat. "Fuckin'...how did I end up helpin'?" Andee complained as they sat on a large boulder together, trading a container of water between them. "You were s'posed to be the free labor."

"Teamwork makes the dream work!" Samael sang out, too tired to avoid dodging the lazy slap against his arm. "So how come we the only ones workin' on this thing? Ain't it affectin' everyone when these fuckers cave in?"

"Eh, the network's huge...there's dead tunnels all over, and if one closes off, there's usually another one that'll get ya where ya need to go," Andee explained. "We use a little thing called 'common sense' down here, ya boob. You should try it sometime!"

Samael snickered and splashed a bit of water on his face before handing the bottle back to Andee. "Yeah, yeah, it's Sammy-slammin' time, again. So what, this just one'a your special tunnels?"

"Damn right! I got people all over the ring I do business with -- faster I can get there, faster I can cut deals." Andee shrugged and kicked at another boulder they'd rolled aside. "Fuck anyone who says I don't work my ass off for the shit I do."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Samael replied through a smile. "Hey, since we're takin' a break...how 'bout we do some more word-learnin'?"

"Well, ain't you teacher's pet," Andee taunted even as he grunted and held up the container of water. Nukoh. Inside'a the rekkco." He then pointed at Samael and the chupa proudly thrust his chest out.

Fiffy!"

Andee tried not to laugh but found it difficult as he shoved his companion lightly. jihvuso-tnoccoh, if ya wanna use the term that won't make everyone look at ya funnier'n they already do." He finished off the water and tossed the empty container to Samael, who instinctively caught it. "Now! Lightning round -- list off all the foods I taught ya this morning! And I'll smack ya for each one ya get wrong!"


The days soon became a comfortable blur for them both. For someone who was supposed to be healing, Samael found himself quite physically active...but he wasn't complaining, either. He'd never been a fan of just sitting around, even when he'd suffered similar injuries in the past.

And for all his bluster, Andee was no slouch, either. He showed no shame in using the chupa for heavier labor that was simply too difficult for one bat to do alone...but more often than not, he was shoulder-to-shoulder with to the rebel and sweating his ass off just as much. They both had the 'gift' of endless talking, but they also learned quickly that their opposite wasn't afraid to put their money where their mouth was.

Clearing out Andee's access tunnel took them nearly three days of constant work. Their only breaks other than sleeping were sharing quick meals, Samael's vocabulary lessons, as well as one longer stretch spent helping Wulok unpack and sort a new shipment of miscellany that Andee had coordinated from a group of scavengers working one of the more active war zones. But even as Samael was fumbling through a semi-successful conversation with the buoyant shopkeeper after their twenty or thirty hours working together, Andee was already pulling him away to return to the tunnel.

...He was a helluva taskmaster.

But Samael kept up with the bat's demanding schedule, his endlessly-upbeat attitude intact. Being around Andee wasn't like spending time with his other flings and occasional 'companions'. Even back at Sidewinder where he had a few fellow rebels he could often rely on sharing a warm bed with, none of them made him as eager to greet every day with a smile the way the foul-mouthed little bat did. Maybe it was the chase, the fact Andee didn't seem to fall for any of his usual plays. And he didn't mind, either. Just spending time with Andee was reward enough.

They'd worked several hours longer on the last day so they could finish moving the last of the debris out of the tunnel. Most of the underground city had gone off to sleep when they shoved the final support timber into place, but they were too delighted with their progress to be bothered by the long day.

"Ha! Real fuckin' good job, Sammy...this is gonna cut off a yard or two for that Episemon job!" Andee announced, a genuine smile plastered on his features as the two wandered back into the quiet town. They were covered head-to-toe in dust and dirt, soaked through with sweat...but they both looked rather pleased with themselves.

Samael cracked his own grin as he used his long-since-ruined shirt to scrub the pebbles from his neck and shoulders. "Heh, shouldn't be surprised this was gonna help with that -- ya been excited as shit for it!"

"Oh, it's gonna set me up real nice," Andee boasted, reaching up with an impatient shake of his wing. Samael smirked but promptly handed the shirt to his companion so Andee could rub his own arms down. "Plus, assuming you're not a fuckin' wreck anymore by then, I actually got someone I can trust to help out! Which is fuckin' rare!"

Samael beamed enormously at this and gazed down at the bat. "You mean that?"

Andee instantly scowled as he realized what he said...but then snorted and offered a half-smile again as he threw the dirty shirt back up to the chupa. "Yeah, guess I do. For a dumb puppy, you've been doin' good these last few days." He smacked Samael's thigh with a wing while jerking his head to one side. "Follow me. I figured we'd be workin' late, had Tello box up a little somethin' for us."


It had taken Samael a few deep breaths to finally be comfortable with sitting on the edge of the roof...not that Andee's constant playful shoves were making it any easier for the chupa to avoid look like a terrified child.

"Where's that big brave puppy now?" Andee mocked as he handed Samael a skewer, noting the way the rebel's tail curled nervously along one of his muscular legs. "C'mon, three days 'n nights of sleepin' in a hammock now -- I figured you woulda gotten over this wussy-ass fear of heights!"

"I ain't scared!" Samael protested even as his vision swam when he stared down. "Oh god, why do y'all even have buildings this high?? Yer in a cave!"

Andee had brought Samael to the top of Xulod's tallest structure to partake of their dinner and was very clearly enjoying Samael's trepidation. He took a bite from his own skewer, talking loudly around it: "'Ey, we c'n fly, chupa-boy. Why wouldn't we take advantage'a the vertical space??"

Samael pouted and nibbled at the admittedly-delicious meat as his legs crossed sheepishly. He took another slow breath and leaned forward to gaze across the city. His free hand quickly shifted to grip into Andee's shoulder for support, but the bat didn't shove it off and only smiled slightly as he watched Samael's expression.

Samael's heart quickened with the adrenaline, but he was finally able to appreciate the view as his fingers dug nervously into his companion. "O-oh...wow..." he breathed out, eyes widening as he gazed at the countless colorful lights strung between the buildings, the varying designs and structures, and the way the bats had somehow built an underground city that felt both cozy and yet sprawling...rarely a claustrophobic feeling, no matter where Samael's eyes drifted. "It's...gorgeous..."

"Toldja my cave was better'n yours," Andee teased gently, shifting when Samael finally loosened his grip and leaned back again. He paused and looked at his skewer while chewing at a piece of meat thoughtfully. "Fuckin'...guess I owe you one, puppy."

As Samael's senses came back to him, he blinked and took another chomp from his meal while tilting his head a bit. "Whyzzat?"

"'Cause I had Tello try your stupid marinade on some flank steak -- that's what we're eatin' now, ya dick-knock." Andee huffed and poked Samael's bicep lightly with the empty skewer before grabbing another one.

Samael immediately grinned, practically preening as he finally relaxed. "Haha! Toldja!" He nudged Andee with an elbow before letting their arms remain pressed together. "See, I know what I'm talkin' about every once inna while."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Andee chuckled around his mouthful of food. He brought one leg to his chest and allowed his weight to rest against Samael's arm. The chupa glanced down at him but only smiled and enjoyed the rest of his skewer in silence. "So...Tracer really never mentioned us, eh?"

Samael's smile fell a bit, but not completely. He set his empty skewer aside, pulling a leg to his chest to mirror Andee. "Nah. Not a peep. I...I guess we ain't really had much time, y'know...be...before..."

Andee grunted quietly. He reached into the small satchel where their food had been tucked away, producing a few sprigs of snatchgrass. "Here." He tilted his head backward to look at Samael with a scowl. "Just promise ya ain't gonna say anything too stupid, huh?"

"Yer such a thoughtful li'l prick," Samael retorted, though he smiled gratefully and took a bit to tuck into his muzzle. "Promise ya won't go flyin' off like a li'l bitch, yerself," he murmured with a nod.

The bat snorted and lightly elbowed the chupa's side, but nodded back all the same. "Eh, guess it worked out okay, him not talkin' about my people. Got to surprise you all on our own," Andee said, finishing off his cubed steak and tossing the skewer back into the bag while replacing it with his own bundle of snatch. "Or he din' think ya puppy ass was ready for us, heh."

Samael laughed softly as he chewed for a few seconds in thought. The gentle numbness was welcome against the tide of wistful memories, but it also made it a little easier to think about things without losing himself in melancholy. "Maybe, yeah. 'S kinda crazy, thinkin' about...the things he did tell me 'bout, though...y'know?" He felt Andee shift again, but the bat remained pressed into his arm, and Samael continued with a faint smile. "I guess we did spend a lot of what precious free time we had, um...y'know..."

Andee snorted and replied loudly around his half-chewed plant: "Remindin' you how terrible you probably were at sex, yeah, I know."

Samael huffed, glad the bat couldn't see his embarrassed flush. "Hey! I got...better. Anyway, yeah, when we weren't doin' that, he would tell me all these stories 'bout everything he'd seen. Stuff 'bout the Reds 'n the Blues...'bout Freelancers, 'bout HADES. 'Bout the House, 'bout regular folks whose lives were all tore up by the war..." He shook his head a bit, his voice growing softer. "All the stuff he believed in fightin' for. Stories 'bout all the lives we were gonna save 'n change by doin' what we were doin'..."

Andee could feel the slight tremble in Samael's body, but he let it be. He rolled his head back again, his muzzle bumping against Samael's shoulder as he looked up at him. "He told me 'lotta the same stories," the bat admitted. He gave a wry smile when Samael peered into his eyes with the unasked question. "Nah, ya big perv. I was an actual kid then. But he treated me like an adult...an' didn't mince shit when he talked, either. I always 'preciated that 'bout 'im. 'Lotta bats know what's goin' on up 'ere, but...'lotta 'em also don' wanna talk 'bout it."

"I got lucky meetin' you then, with all yer 'connections' 'n shit," Samael replied teasingly. "Fer what it's worth...I'm kinda glad he din' tell me 'bout y'all, too. Made all this that much more of an adventure." He grinned and his companion rolled his eyes but didn't argue. Andee's muzzle was still tilted up toward him and the two shared an inverted gaze for a few seconds as their maws inched closer.

But before they could make contact, a series of sharp whistles from somewhere below made them both turn awkwardly away from one another. Andee cleared his throat and shifted the snatch to the other side of his muzzle while quickly gathering up the loose skewers. "Ah shit -- it's late, Sammy, they're already changin' the guard."

"Yeah, but we finished the tunnel, din' we? Don'tcha wanna stay up to celebrate?" Samael wheedled as he rested back on his palms and looked pleadingly at Andee.

But the bat only smiled slightly and nudged the chupa with his wing. "Nice try, dumbass. C'mon, I'm 'bout to fall over where I'm standin', and I know your stupid ass worked twice as hard. Besides, just 'cause we finished that don't mean we're done! There's a delivery I got lined up bright 'n early that you're gonna be helping me with, so all you're gettin' tonight is some fuckin' sleep."

Samael huffed but stood up wistfully, almost not even noticing the fact he was standing on the very edge of the roof. "Maaaan, yer no fun," he mumbled as he hung his shirt around his neck and tried to stifle a yawn. "A'right, a'right, yer the boss. Take me 'n my sleepy ass back to that gawddamn hammock so I c'n get m'snooze on." He paused and then peered over the edge of the roof to savor the odd mix of nauseated vertigo and snatchgrass-induced calm. "'Cuz, buddy, I ain't gotta gat-damn clue where we are right now..."

Andee snickered and gave a tired wave of a wing as he shouldered the satchel and ambled toward the stairwell. "Follow me, then, shortstack..."


Andee hadn't been exaggerating about getting right back to work. He'd greeted Samael six hours later with the usual mugs of coffee, but it was straight to the workshop district before Samael could even contemplate grabbing a bite to eat. Two crates of miscellaneous repaired bits of machinery and electronics were set to be traded to a hoop for a hefty supply of vodka; it wasn't taking long for Samael to learn that a lot of Andee's deals involved trading alcohol in one direction or another. It wasn't even like the House forbade it -- if anything, imbibing was encouraged on Sirca. But getting one territory's specialty into another wasn't always easy.

From there, Andee wasted no time dragging Samael along down a different side-tunnel where a few half-assembled ATVs were stashed -- Andee wasn't exactly a skilled mechanic, but he had a few friends back in town that worked magic with chupa engineering...so it was back to manual labor as Samael spent the next day dragging the various parts back with Andee flitting around his head clutching bags of smaller bits and pieces. It wasn't quite as glamorous as their very first mission, but it kept them busy and Andee always seemed the tiniest bit surprised at how cheerfully Samael took to the various tasks despite how little reward there was for the rebel.

Their days continued to unfold in a similar fashion; when they weren't breaking a sweat with some odd job, delivery or exchange, Andee pounded his native tongue into Samael relentlessly. He was fond of surprising the chupa with an unannounced test of vocabulary (which was almost always accompanied by a swift smack into the still-tender tattoo on Samael's back whenever he got a wor wrong). But his other new favorite activity was shoving Samael in front of another bat to try and have a conversation with absolutely no prompting. Bonus points if they were a complete stranger.

Andee stood a few feet away from Samael on one such occasion, grinning with his arms crossed while the chupa fumbled through a slow conversation with an older female bat who was in the middle of knitting some kind of sweater. "Uh...so, um, you are making the clothing?" he asked warily.

As she squinted up at him and then slowly replied, Juwo ambled up to Andee with a smile. The younger bat glanced at him before nodding in a tiny show of respect. "How's it goin', old man?"

"All is well, Andee. How are our guest's lessons going?"

Andee smirked confidently and tilted his head toward the chupa. "Pretty good, eh? He still sounds like a dumbass kid, but hey, baby steps for the baby puppy."

Juwo chuckled quietly but paused to listen for himself.

"Yes, this is for my grandchild. I must say, you are doing well with our language, young man."

Samael blinked in confusion, even as he carefully replied: "Uh, thank you. D-did you say it was for your grand...chode?"

The old bat's eyes widened and she began to yell at the chupa while whaling on him with the enormous knitting needles. Samael yelped and ducked his head, covering himself with his arms while backpedaling and yowling apologies in a mix of his less-than-perfect bat-speak and his own heavily-accented common.

Andee guffawed, slapping his knee as Juwo sighed and gave him a look. "Perhaps your methods, while effective, would benefit from a tiny bit more guidance?"

But Andee only grinned as Samael finally managed to escape from the furious blows of the grandmother, scampering out of her reach and racing to duck behind Andee with a yelp of protest. "Naaaw, he's learnin' just fine, ain'tcha, Sammy??"

The rebel grabbed one of Andee's wings, holding it up in front of himself protectively as the old female huffed and glowered at Andee before pausing to bow respectfully toward Juwo.

The chieftain bowed back, reaching out to grasp her hand and speak a few soft, apologetic words to her. Samael couldn't make out what they said to one another, but it was apparently enough to forgive his transgression as she shot the pair one more withering glare before giving a tiny smile and then trundling off.

Juwo then turned back to the cowed chupa and the less-than-cowed bat with a crooked smile of his own. "All minor blunders aside, your lessons are coming along well, young Samael. And I see you two have managed to work together without killing each other, which is a positive. You are both invaluable to your respective homes, as well as to each other." Andee groaned at this, finally yanking his arm away from Samael and opening his muzzle to retort, only for Juwo to continue: "We all deserve a friend who understands us in ways no other does."

He smiled again, in that frustratingly wise way that left even Andee unable to do much more than mumble quietly. Samael gave a sheepish smile back over Andee's head and the chief tilted his head slightly to them both, then continued on his way. Andee huffed, then peered up at Samael. "Ah, wipe that dumb grin off ya dumb face, jackass -- you ain't nothin' special, and I sure as shit ain't the only one who 'understands' how much you love dick, or how scared ya are of heights!"

Samael's smile continued, however, as he shoved his hands into his back pockets and studied the bat for a moment. "Actually...I think ya are the only one who knows 'bout that second part..." He winked and then took the lead for once as he strolled toward the edge of town. "Let's go see if those two dorks stole our picnic cave again."

Andee stared after him for a moment before frowning thoughtfully and then shaking his head, loping after the chupa with a grumble.


The two teenagers they'd previously caught necking in the glittering cavern were, in fact, there again...but they were side-tracked from teasing the young couple by Andee suddenly remembering about a meeting he'd set up with a few of the mail-bats. And as always, Samael tagged along, joined at the hip as the two had become during their busy days.

Samael was getting used to this, much as he didn't want to. Every time he and Andee had some semblance of free time to try and relax together, something else always seemed to come up. He knew he was here for a reason, and that Nelson hadn't approved the extended stay for his own personal enjoyment...but goddamn if it wasn't still gnawing at him.

The days continued passing at their brisk clip, soon leaving the bat and chupa on the evening before the job in Episemon. A last-minute exchange had come up, and Andee had agreed to it only because Samael swore up and down that he felt just fine and that his injury was all but completely healed. It was a simple drop-off that was just a few hours of jogging through the jungle since the mongoose they'd used on their very first job together had no functional headlight.

The night sky was bright enough, though, and Samael's nighttime vision had improved with his time in the caves. They'd made the brisk run without issue, and Andee felt good enough that he took wing on the way back. As he glided between the tree trunks with a toothy grin, Samael laughed and doggedly chased him on the ground, his years of running across Sampi giving him more than enough endurance to keep up with his flying companion.

Samael realized the trees were less familiar after a certain point, however, frowning a bit as he called up: "Hey, Andee! Ya lost or summin'? Ain't the cave that-a way??"

But the bat just smirked down at him and circled above him once. "Ya said your shit's about healed up, right?"

Samael blinked and then glanced down at himself. He'd been gifted a few more shirts from Wulok -- some that weren't even ridiculously oversized -- and he lifted the hem of the one he now wore to poke at the bandaging. The city's healers had replaced the bandaging a few times since he first arrived, and as he rubbed a thumb against it, he could barely feel any soreness. "Yeah! Pretty sure!"

Andee grinned and flew close enough to knock a talon gently against the back of Samael's head. "Good. Then shut up 'n follow me, puppy!"

Samael gave his own curious smile and picked up the jog again as Andee weaved between the tree trunks to lead him away from their usual entrance into the cave. "You got it, Andee..."

It wasn't long before he heard the rather distinct sound of water lapping at a rocky shore, and the chupa blinked and slowed his pace. Andee had disappeared somewhere past a bunch of thick foliage and Samael slowly pushed it apart as he poked his head through. "Andee?" He then gasped softly at the sight of a massive lake that stretched out ahead of him, its crystalline waters casting a near-perfect reflection of the starry sky above while pockets of thick mist drifted silently along the still surface.

"Holy shit," the chupa whispered as he stepped out from the trees, marveling at the sight and almost hesitantly approaching the edge of the lake. "Is this...is this Loch Krainen?"

Andee chortled from a few meters away where he'd landed on a large boulder overlooking the shrouded lake. "Ya ain't scared, are ya? All them stories 'bout ghosts and shit don't bug ya, right?" he teased with a grin.

Samael tipped a toe claw into the water, then smiled brightly at Andee. "Not a damn bit," he replied easily. He quickly stripped off his shirt, tossing it aside and then glancing at his bandaging again. "Welp...only one way to find out fer sure," he drawled as he winced and then carefully peeled the gauze back.

He was rewarded, however, with only a shallow bit of scabbing on his abdomen. He immediately sighed in relief and quickly removed the rest of the bandaging before turning away from Andee with a half-smile, glancing over his shoulder. "Other side?"

Andee leaned forward with a grunt, then nodded. "Yeah, ain't no hole there no more. Looks like you really are gonna be ready for tomorrow, eh?" He shrugged amicably as he started to remove the absurd number of explosives and trinkets from beneath his poncho to toss them into a neat pile. "But I figured ya wouldn't mind a quick dip like the dumb puppy ya are before we headed back in...I can smell your gross, sweaty hide from here."

"Hey, you ain't smellin' like no roses, yerself," Samael retorted playfully before he shamelessly slid his pants down, leaving only his piercings on as he sighed happily. "Goddamn, that feels nice."

"You really are some kinda weird-ass tribal fucker, always lookin' for an excuse to run around with no fuckin' pants on," Andee snorted.

"Hey! Like. None of y'all wear pants!" Samael shot back with a laugh, placing one hand on a cocked hip.

Andee glanced up as he finally removed his now-empty half-poncho. His eyes drifted over the chupa's body before he half-grinned. "Yeah, well...we got the right body for it -- we ain't walking around with all'a that showin'," he replied with a jab in the direction of Samael's exposed crotch.

Samael grinned but shrugged easily, then strode forward into the lake. "My loss, I guess, that you fuzzy bastards c'n hide yer junk so easily!" he sang out before exhaling sharply -- the water was cool, but not uncomfortable. "Ohhh gawd, that's nice," he mumbled, wading deeper until the water came up past his knees and then simply diving forward.

Andee watched bemusedly as his companion remained submerged for a few moments, his muscular form just visible beneath the disturbed surface. The bat left his black cap firmly in place between his ears and flew over to a long branch that hung over the surface of the lake. As he landed on it, it dipped low enough that he was able to reach down and splash some water over his face with a quiet sigh. It did feel refreshing after their long trip.

Samael surfaced near him with a soft splash as the chupa shook his head and rumbled blissfully. His eyes locked onto the bat with a smile and he paddled over to the branch. The lake was deep enough that he had to tread to stay afloat, but the chupa seemed extremely at ease in the water. "C'mon in, Andee! The water's fuckin' awesome..." He offered a coy grin. "An' pretty lonely, too!"

Andee smirked as he wordlessly scooped up more water and then let it run over his neck and along his chest. Several rivulets cut a neat path through his thick fur as the perfectly-clear liquid flowed effortlessly over his slender body. Samael's jaw hung open, his eyes staring up at the bat in shameless, awestruck longing. It made Andee grin despite himself as he sniffed disdainfully and flicked a bit of water from his wing at the chupa. "Does it look like I swim, shortstack? Nah, you keep your horny teenager vibes to yourself, I'm perfectly fine up here."

"Perfect is right," Samael mumbled, dropping his muzzle partially into the water to let out a frustrated burst of bubbles. But as Andee only continued to lazily splash water over himself in an improvised bath, the chupa huffed and then grinned as he prowled closer. Andee had his head tilted back as he very purposefully teased the rebel, but Samael had his own plan in mind as he lifted a hand from beneath the water to grab the branch and yank it downward.

Andee blinked in surprise, throwing his wings wide with a squawk. And when Samael released the branch, it sprung back up and sent the unprepared bat tumbling into the air in a slow arc over the chupa's head. Samael turned around with a giggle as Andee crashed into the lake, his hat unceremoniously left floating on the surface as he disappeared beneath the water. "Ha! Toldja the water's nice!" he announced as he paddled toward where Andee had gone under. "Now we c'n have horny teenager vibes together!"

He laughed and reached out to pick up the cap, peering under it. "Andee?" He chuckled again and then started to look around when the bat failed to resurface. "Uh...Andee??" He didn't hear splashing, nor did he see any thrashing underwater and his eyes widened a bit. "Oh shit...Andee? Andee!? Where are you??"

Clutching the cap tightly in one arm, he cursed and then dove beneath the surface to scan the water frantically. The natural light from the night sky was just enough to cast long, pale beams of luminescence through the glassy water, but he could only see a few distant fish, some plant-life and the rocky bottom of the lake. He grit his teeth, desperately spinning around beneath the water only to release a muffled scream of shock as a figure darted rapidly toward him.

He realized it was Andee's grinning face at the last second, the bat's wings propelling him effortlessly through the water and toward the chupa, whose lungs were now empty thanks to his terrified screech. Samael's powerful legs scissored to send him bursting up through the surface of the lake as he wheezed loudly and coughed up a mouthful of water. "Holy fuckin' shit-on-a-goddamn-sammich!" he cried out before squeaking and flailing away as Andee exploded out from under the water in a neat leap over the flabbergasted rebel, diving back under the surface behind him with barely a splash. "You dirty li'l fuckin' bitch!" Samael wailed, slapping at the lake with Andee's cap as he resumed his treading and continued coughing up a bit of liquid.

Andee popped up again nearby with a gleeful cackle, his eyes gleaming in delight at the chupa's expression. "Ya thought I was a goner, didn'tcha, puppy??"

"I did!" Samael whined, shoving a small wave of water at the laughing bat. "That wasn't fuckin' cool! Holy fuck, I almost peed myself, I thought you was drownin'!"

Andee snickered and splashed back at his companion before smirking in entertainment. "I think ya did, actually, this water feels warmer'n usual." He laughed again when Samael pouted and tried to smack him with the soaked cap, maneuvering deftly to one side. "Yer bein' a real sore loser, Sammy!"

Samael huffed as he finally felt his heart slowing again, looking genuinely sullen while half-heartedly splashing the bat again. "I really thought you were gone forra sec! Gave me a damn heart attack!"

Andee grinned, but swam closer so he could gently prod a claw into the chupa's chest. "That's what ya get for flingin' me in, ya douchebag." Samael jutted his chin out childishly, and the bat snorted before reaching out and snagging his hat away from the rebel. "But alright, guess we're about even now," he teased. He paused, and instead of putting it back on himself, he dropped the cap onto Samael's head. It didn't fit, not by a long shot, but it remained plastered in place all the same. "I suppose this serves as a lesson that we ain't got any problems with swimming -- our wings ain't like bird wings, after all."

"Yeah, I can see that now," Samael grumbled, but he smiled helplessly nonetheless as he glanced up at the hat before reaching out and poking Andee's nose gently. "Looks better on you, I bet."

"Everything looks better on me," Andee boasted. He swam closer to the chupa, savoring Samael's sheepish -- albeit enormous -- grin. "Don't get no ideas, shortstack," he warned, though his threat felt gentle as he floated right up against the rebel, their chests bumping together beneath the surface.

"Wouldn't dare," Samael replied with a wink. He reached up to one of Andee's ears, and the bat gave him a sidelong look, but Samael only smiled and carefully pulled away a bit of stringy, wet flora. "Y'got some seaweed from yer fish impersonation." He felt Andee relax somewhat, and he didn't hesitate to take advantage as he slid one arm around the bat while kicking a leg firmly to push himself onto his back, simultaneously pulling Andee onto his chest.

Andee grunted in surprise and dug one hand into Samael's thick fur to maintain his balance as he ended up atop his companion. Samael winked again as he kept his arm around Andee's waist while lazily paddling with his legs to glide along on his back. The bat snorted softly as he studied Samael for a moment, shifting a bit to straddle his torso while he gently pressed a claw into the nearly-healed bullet hole. "Bet you think you're pretty slick," he murmured, his gaze locking with Samael's as the chupa smiled up at him.

"I know I'm pretty slick," Samael fired back as he propelled them in a gentle circle, his eyes dancing in the faint light of the celestial bodies. He squeezed Andee's waist before moving his hand to slowly trace a claw along the inside of one of the bat's wings.

Andee smiled easily at the confidence as he leaned forward a bit in response, running his claws through Samael's thick coat to scrape over his taut musculature. "Game recognize game, I suppose," he replied coolly. He tilted his head down further as Samael lowered his muzzle with a smile. The rebel felt Andee's grip tighten into his chest fur, the rising heat between them nearly unbearable. Andee's nose pushed into Samael's muzzle, the smooth metal ring tapping against Samael's fur as the bat added softly, "But..."

"Don't you fuckin' say it," Samael mumbled, his eyes pleading desperately as he gently dug his fingers into Andee's side. "We got time."

Andee's smile was almost wistful. "Ya wish, puppy. We gotta be in Episemon before the sun's out, and we both need to be rested. Night ain't long enough."

Samael sighed softly, his breath washing over Andee's muzzle as the two slowly pulled apart again. "It never is," he whispered before groaning as he rolled his head back into the water briefly to let the cool liquid wash over his flushed features. He flung his head back and sent a spray of water across Andee, who scowled and waved at him with both arms.

"Hey, don't take it out on me, asshole!" Andee complained, sliding backward on the chupa's torso and then freezing in place as he bumped into...

They stared awkwardly at each other for a few seconds before Samael choked out: "I-it's not my fault! It's gotta mind of its own! And yer still really hot!"

Andee squinted down at him, but then only grinned slightly as he shifted to bring both feet up and onto Samael's stomach, balancing on him neatly for a few seconds. "Yeah, I know," he replied casually before kicking off the chupa to send Samael plunging down into the water as he took gracefully to the air with a chortle. "And you're still a sucker!" he called down as Samael flailed wildly under the surface and eventually resurfaced with a mortified expression. He grinned to himself as Samael's eyes peered up at him wantonly and the bat flew in a tight loop before making a beeline for the shore and calling over his shoulder: "Don't forget my hat, puppy! And swear to god, you use it to cover up your boner, I'mma make you buy me a new one!"

Samael mumbled to himself as he paddled toward the shoreline, shoving Andee's cap between his jaws to leave his arms free to swim. "Gonna cover you wit' m' boner, ya tiny asth-munth, then we'll thee who'th laughin'..." He continued to grumble as his paws made contact with the lake bottom once more, striding out from the water and making a very obvious point to not cover himself whatsoever as he stomped over to the bat with his cap still between his teeth. "'Ere, take yer thupid hat," he muttered before opening his jaws to let it plop down onto Andee's head.

The bat smirked, reaching up automatically to adjust it while letting his eyes linger briefly on his companion's crotch before they flicked up to his face in entertainment. "Better get dressed 'fore we get back, 'cause no one else is gonna believe it's only the cold water makin' things so tiny," he teased, immediately jumping away from the shirt Samael threw at him as he laughed and quickly gathered up his own things. "You love me for my honesty!" he called over a shoulder as he took to the air again, grinning when the half-dressed chupa stumbled into a sprint behind him.

"I love you 'cause yer li'l tiny body's gonna be easy to hide after I murder the shit outta it!" Samael hollered back, loping after the bat as he struggled to fasten his pants. "You better lock yer door tonight or I'mma come strangle you with my hammock, ya little shitbird!!"